From industry mega-talents writer Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Gideon Falls) and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Vision, Sentient) comes a horror story about 18-wheeling down a desolate, monster-filled road in Phantom Road #1. Featuring colors by Jordie Bellaire and letting from Steve Wands, Phantom Road is a great concept that starts off exceptionally well, this new series published by Image Comics promises another great experience full of terror from the publisher. With a tight, tense script and atmospheric visuals, this is a great start to this new horror series.
“Dom is a long-haul truck driver attempting to stay ahead of his tragic past. When he stops one night to assist Birdie, who has been in a massive car crash, they pull an artifact from the wreckage that throws their lives into fifth gear. Suddenly, a typical midnight run has become a frantic journey through a surreal world where Dom and Birdie find themselves the quarry of strange and impossible monsters.”
Writing & Plot
Over the course of his career, Jeff Lemire has steadily built himself up as one of the comics medium’s premier horror writers, and this trend continues with Phantom Road #1. Lemire has always had a knack for pulling unique horror scenarios out of a hat, and this opening issue contains one of his most intriguing premises yet. The basic concept – driving an 18-wheeler hauling a weird artifact in a parallel dimension’s highway while being chased by monsters – is stupidly enticing. As insane as the core premise may sound, Lemire manages to ground it via his sharp characterization. We get just enough of Dom and his backstory to make him relatable and feel like a real human being. His somber mannerisms and speech make his reality as a lonesome trucker with a bit of trauma feel palpable. Throwing a person that feels so real into such a genre twist makes the story all the more exciting. Being an as well, Lemire knows how to let the visual work do the talking. There are plenty of wordless panels where character expression, environment, or the reveal of some ugly monster does all the work with no words needed. Lemire’s dialogue sensibilities feel very natural and make the readers feel more at home with the characters we meet – as well as let their reactions to the change of setting feel more real. This first issue is a textbook example on how to open a great horror story.
Phantom Road #1 is graced by the distinct, nuanced visual direction of Gabriel Hernandez Walta. Walta’s thin pencils and detailed inks go on to create memorable character design, genuinely unnerving monsters, and a setting that feels real and lived in. His subtle approach works perfectly with Lemire’s lack of dialogue in many places, as Walta takes advantage of the comics medium’s visual storytelling with stellar sequential direction and distinct artistic touches. There’s a great recurring image that he uses where Dom’s reflection can be seen in the windshield of his truck as he drives. Dom is literally reflecting on himself as he reflects on his past while driving down the highway, living the often very lonely life of a truck driver. Walta nails the subtle simplicity of regular existence in truck stops and diners before pivoting to the horror elements. This opening issue is pretty light on actual monsters and horrific reveals, but like all great horror, it’s about quality over quantity. The opening monster reveal is shocking and memorable enough to stay in readers’ minds long after they close the book while keeping true terror fanatics excitedly awaiting what else Walta has cooking.
Veteran color artist Jordie Bellaire creates a hazy, dust-filled atmosphere that captures the feeling of driving on a desert highway. This effect also manages to capture that sense of isolation felt by Dom as he travels. This alters though when he runs into Birdie, as Bellaire lets up on the haze to capture the jolt of weirdness that takes us into the monster-filled new reality. The hazy effect becomes grayer and more fog like, resembling the visual atmosphere of Silent Hill in a way. I focus on Bellaire’s use of dust, as it alters the color approach to every surface in the comic. The color palette tends to veer closer to the darker, more saturated ends of each tone, making for a rich but grounded visual experience in every panel. The lettering from Steve Wands is a mixture of legible and dynamic dialogue lettering and subtle yet standout SFX work that punctuates every scene. Overall, the artistic storytelling in this opening issue is a stellar representation of how to tell a character-centric horror story.
Phantom Road #1 is a thoughtful and unique new horror chapter from two of the industry’s most acclaimed creators. Lemire’s script gets the reader affiliated with Dom with careful characterization before dunking us into the genre twist, all while leaving plenty of space for the visuals to do the storytelling. The art by Gabriel H. Walta and Jordie Bellaire is atmospheric and detailed, providing an engrossing setting and unnerving creatures to keep readers glued to the book from beginning to end. Be sure to grab this debut issue when it hits shelves on March 1st!